CUT PAPER (qeṭʿa “decoupage,” also monabbat-kārī “filigree work”), a type of applied ornament documented in Persian manuscripts and sometimes on bookbindings from the approximate period 895-1060/1490-1650; in Turkey the art of qeṭʿa (katı) continued into the 19th century and included a greater variety of subjects (Çiğ; Rogers, pp. 18-23, 34; Türkische Kunst II, pp. 119-21; Duda, I, pp. 119-20, 145, II, figs. 361, 379). In Persian manuscripts qeṭʿa was devoted to calligraphic passages (see calligraphy), especially in nastaʿlīq script. The master bore the professional title qāṭeʿ, comparable to the designations moḏahheb (gilder) and naqqāš (painter); he worked with a minus­cule penknife having a very sharp blade (Arseven, p. 321).

Calligraphic decoupage. Possibly the finest surviv­ing creation in the qeṭʿa technique from Persia is a copy of the Dīvān composed in Chaghatay by Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā (Supplement), the Timurid ruler in Herat (875-912/1470-1506). Twenty-nine folios are kept in the Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi, Istanbul (no. 1926; Ḥabīb, p. 261; Lentz and Lowry, p. 359 no. 148, 2 illus. in color). Others were removed from the volume in the late 19th century and are now in muse­ums and private collections throughout the world (Duda, I, p. 123, figs. 362, 364, 368; Minorsky, p. 7 no. 404; Welch, 1979, pp. 170-71 no. 72; Falk, pp. 64-66 no. 35; Lentz and Lowry, pp. 270, 359-60 no. 149; Aghdashloo, p. 16). On the first opening four lines of cut-out script are included within typical Timurid illumination (Lentz and Lowry, p. 359 no. 148). On each of a series of subsequent leaves eight lines of very fine nastaʿlīq have been cut from light-blue, yellow, or white paper and pasted onto dark-blue sheets; illuminated panels serve to divide sections of the text. This manuscript of the Dīvān is undated, but, as the name of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā is accompanied by the formula “may God make his reign eternal,” it was probably com­pleted during his lifetime.

An inscription in the Istanbul fragment of the Dīvān includes the name of the qāṭeʿ, ʿAbd-Allāh (Ḥabīb, p. 261); the name Solṭān-ʿAlī (Mašhadī), the most fa­mous of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā’s calligraphers (d. 913/1507), appears on the folio in the Aydin Aghdashloo (Āydīn Āḡdāšlū) collection. Moṣṭafā-ʿAlī Efendi, in his Manāqeb-e honarvarān, completed in 995/1587, noted that ʿAbd-­Allāh Qāṭeʿ, who had been raised and trained in Herat, was the most accomplished of the qāṭeʿān. By the age of eleven years he was already cutting out the calligra­phy of Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī, including a number of his early specimens; ʿAbd-Allāh’s fame was greatly en­hanced by his association with this master calligrapher (p. 63; cf. Karīmzāda, I, p. 312). Other folios of Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī’s calligraphy cut out by ʿAbd-Allāh are to be found in moraqqa’s (albums) in the Topkapı Sarayı library, Istanbul; one of them includes the name of a patroness, Ṣāḥeba Bahrām (Ḥabībī, p. 647).

ʿAbd-Allāh’s son Dūst-Moḥammad Qāṭeʿ (errone­ously identified by Moṣṭafā-ʿAlī, p. 63, as Moḥammad-­Dūst) learned the art of paper cutting from his father, whose skill he rivaled. Although he is better know to students of Persian and Mughal art as a painter, several examples of his qeṭʿa are known. Three of them are in an album in the National library, St. Petersburg (Dorn, p. 147); one is dated 917/1511-12 (Kostygova, p. 15), when Dūst-Moḥammad would have been around twenty years old (Dickson and Welch, pp. 118-19). Another example of his decoupage is in the Bahrām Mīrzā album in the Topkapı Sarayı library; according to the signature, “Dūst-Moḥammad Moṣawwer qāṭeʿohā” (its qāṭeʿ was Dūst-Moḥammad the painter), a clear indication that he worked in both media (Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 84, 305). A qeṭʿa in the Aghdashloo collection, Tehran, is signed “raqam-e Mīr ʿAlī Heravī qāṭeʿohū Dūst-Moḥammad Kūšavānī” (script of Mīr ʿAlī Heravī; its qāṭeʿ was Dūst-Moḥammad of Kūšavān [a village near Herat], Aghdashloo, p. 19).

According to Moṣṭafā-ʿAlī (p. 63), Dūst-Moḥammad Moṣawwer had a student named “Sangī-ʿAlī” Badaḵšī, “whose calligraphic pieces are universally prized” (Karīmzāda, I, p. 228). An unusual folio of his cut-out calligraphy is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Plate XXXV). The four lines of calligra­phy, placed diagonally, are the negative of the usual cut-out script; presumably the lines cut from this sheet formed another qeṭʿa. The piece is signed “kātebohā al-faqīr Mīr ʿAlī qāṭeʿohā Sangī-ʿAlī Badaḵšī (its scribe was the humble Mīr ʿAlī; its qāṭeʿ was Sangī-ʿAlī Badaḵšī). Another specimen, written in 943/1536 in Bukhara, is included in the Moraqqaʿ-e golšan in the Golestān library, Tehran; still others are in the Shah Esmāʿīl album in the Topkapı Sarayı library; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and various private collec­tions (Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 494-95; Schimmel, p. 178 n. 144; Drouot-Richelieu, lot 413). Sangī-ʿAlī Badaḵšī must therefore have been employed in the library of the Uzbek ruler ʿObayd-Allāh Khan (918-46/1512-39) or possibly that of his son ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz Solṭān (r. 946-57/1539-50). Mīr ʿAlī Heravī also worked in Bukhara after 935/1528 (see EIr IV, p. 714 pl. XCIV). Another master qāṭeʿ, Naḏr-ʿAlī Qāṭeʿ of Badaḵšān, was mentioned by Qāżī Aḥmad in Golestān-­e honar. Qāżī Aḥmad provided the following vivid description of the work of Naḏr-ʿAlī: “Maulānā Nadhr [H: Naẓar]-ʿAlī Qāṭiʿ came to Holy Mashhad from Badakhshān. He walked about dressed in felt, in darvish attire, and was an extremely spiritual and pure man. Looking at samples of Mīr-ʿAlī’s script he cut out qiṭʿa that there was no difference and no superior­ity between what was written and what was cut out; all that came out of there (out of the sheet of paper) became a qiṭʿa, and that from which cuttings were made was in itself another qiṭʿa. He settled down in Holy Mashhad and many people studied under him and imitated him, but could not equal him” (tr. Minorsky, p. 193). No works signed by Naḏr-ʿAlī are known, but his life and way of working seem to parallel those of “Sangī-ʿAlī” in some respects.

The last Persian master mentioned by Moṣṭafā-ʿAlī Efendi (p. 63) was Mīr Moḥammad-Bāqer Heravī, the “mature child” and son of the calligrapher Mīr ʿAlī: “Both his cuttings and his brilliance are as exquisite as his father’s calligraphy.” Although Moḥammad-­Bāqer’s own calligraphy is documented (Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 659-61), no example of his qeṭʿa is known at present. Several qeṭʿas, including one in the “Bellini album” in The Metropolitan Museum (no. and two in the Aghdashloo collection (Aghdashloo, pp. 15, 18), bear the name Mīr ʿAlī as calligrapher but no indication of who cut out the script and arranged it on the pages; they may well have been the work of the young Mīr Moḥammad-Bāqer.

Another qeṭʿa in the Aghdashloo collection, inscribed “qāṭeʿohā Bonyād Tabrīzī” (its qāṭeʿ was Bonyād Tabrīzī) and dated 1049/1639, reveals changes in both the composition and quality of such work in the 17th century (Aghdashloo, p. 38). The monumental and spacious nastaʿlīq is arranged horizontally on the folio, and the effect is of much greater simplicity than in the work of the 16th century. Later examples of Persian calligraphic decoupage are not known at present.

One example of Persian cut calligraphy combined with cut designs is known, an anthology (safīna or bayāż) in the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (Pers. ms. 2332). It contains five miniatures attributable stylistically to Shiraz ca. 1540 and seven pages of mixed cut designs that must have been ex­ecuted at the same time and place (Ashraf, pp. 87-88). On folio 113b there are three roundels arranged verti­cally; the top one frames a scene of two seated men, one handing the other a cup, the other two qeṭʿas on scrolls with arabesque leaves (rūmī); the original gold paper cutouts, set on dark-blue backgrounds, are now discolored bronze. On a second folio (52b) there are cutouts of trees, two deer, and birds in black, on a blue ground, with a painted figure defending himself from an attacking bear. As these images resemble designs on contemporary cut-leather bookbindings, it is prob­able that this qāṭeʿ, at least, was also skilled in monabbat-kārī.

Decoupage on bookbindings. The painter and qāṭeʿ Dūst-Moḥammad also wrote a treatise on art, Ḥālāt-e honarvarān, in which he reported that a 15th-century Tabrīzī bookbinder, Qewām-al-Dīn, had invented filigree work (monabbat-kārī; Binyon et al., p. 185). His report was in error, however, as leather-filigree deco­ration had previously appeared on 14th-century Mamluk bookbindings (Bosch et al., no. 71) and had a long tradition in Egypt (Arnold and Grohmann, pls. 29-30, 19; Survey of Persian Art, pl. 951 B).

The earliest datable example of Persian filigree work is to be found on the doublure of an anthology made for Sultan Aḥmad Jalāyer (784-813/1382-1410, with an interruption) in Baghdad in 809/1406-07 (Türk ve İslam Müzesi, no. 2046); it was derived from earlier Mamluk prototypes in both style and technique (Aslanapa, p. 68, pl. XII). According to Dūst-­Moḥammad’s treatise, when the Timurid prince Bāysonqor Mīrzā (q.v.) transported Qewām-al-Dīn and other artists of the book from Tabrīz to Herat, he ordered them to produce manuscripts “in shape and pages and illustration exactly like those of Sultan Aḥmad of Baghdad” (Binyon et al., p. 185).

Monabbat-kārī did indeed have its greatest flower­ing in Herat in the 15th century (Aslanapa, pls. XI, XII, XIV, XIX; figs. 32, 36, 40, 44, 46, 47, 49, 52-54). Usually the delicate filigree patterns were cut from thin pieces of leather, gilded, and pasted onto colored parchment or paper; the procedure was time-consum­ing, and, as early as the 16th century, pieces of gilded paper were increasingly substituted for leather filigree, as they were both cheaper and easier to prepare (Gratzl, p. 1980). It is difficult to distinguish paper from leather filigree without the use of a magnifying glass. A good example of 18th-century Persian paper filigree is on the doublure of a bookbinding in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Haldane, no. 112).

Aside from the fact that the implement used for monabbat-kārī was the same as that used for qeṭʿa, a page of cut-paper calligraphy in the album of the Ottoman sultan Morād III (982-1003/1574-95) in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (Mixt. 313, fol. 4b), offers evidence that there was a relation­ship between practitioners of monabbat-kārī and of qeṭʿa. Four diagonal lines from one of Jāmī’s ḡazals, written in nastaʿlīq on bright-rose paper and pasted on a dark-blue background, are dated 961/1554 and signed by the qāṭeʿ Moḥammad-Ṭāher, who described him­self as mojalled al-ḵāqānī (imperial bookbinder; Duda, I, pp. 111-12 fig. 350; Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān III, p. 783). Although this specimen of cut calligraphy was prob­ably made in the Ottoman empire, it suggests that artisans drawn from the ranks of the bookbinders and skilled at cutting out leather designs also produced calligraphic qeṭʿa.



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Plate XXXV. Calligraphy by Mīr ʿAlī, cut out by Sangī-ʿAlī Badaḵšī. Persia, second quarter of the 16th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Louise V. Bell Fund and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1967, no. All rights reserved, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(Barbara Schmitz)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: December 15, 1993

This article is available in print.
vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 475-478